Core documentation - the what, why and how
Or to be more precise: why should I care about my documentation? What differentiates documentation from other types of data, is that they describe actual events which have taken place. Without documentation, there is no way to go back and find out what really happened in different situations, and without good routines to prevent tampering (making the documentation unreliable) or poor data quality (making the documentation difficult to access or find), what you have may not hold up in a court of law. But in the daily life of a business there’s a lot going on, and the number of things being documented is huge.
Only you as a professional entity can decide what and how your company documents its actions, and no software vendor (including us) can tell you how to do this. There are however some useful tools to get the process going and the most important one is figuring out what is your core documentation. How do you do that? Ask yourself the following questions:
What am I required to retain by law?
This is usually straightforward and might consist of different permits and certificates, accounting revisions etc. This is usually dependent on international, national or local laws and regulations. Few businesses have a problem keeping these under control and accessible to both their legal and accounting departments.
What can I get in trouble for not having?
It’s not always what the law demands, but sometimes also what documentation you can bring to court if there’s ever a disagreement with your customers, clients or partners. It is not just contracts that are important but also all agreements (both formal and informal) and communications are important. Demands in law or international regulations like GDPR also oblige you to make whatever documentation you have related to a particular client as easily accessible to that client as it is to your customer department.
What is creating value?
Some of your documentation also creates actual value for the company. Customer data and/or surveys can be used for making new sales or new product lines. This should be obvious for most companies and usually is, but do you know for certain?..
…what has the potential for creating value in the future?
Research comes from many unexpected areas. While some data has an immediate and obvious value, some won´t be obvious until after a period of time.
An important thing to remember is that GDPR and similar privacy regulations don`t prevent you from storing large amounts of data generated from your business processes. They do demand, as mentioned earlier, that documentation you have about the client is readily available and transparent. Whenever the relationship between you and the client ends, GDPR demands that client data should be deleted, UNLESS the data are anonymized.
This can be complicated, but it is not impossible, and can potentially allow you to keep large amounts of valuable data produced during a provider-customer relationship. Should I be one of the good guys/girls?
If you also care about your responsibility for society on a general basis, good documentation is about responsibility and accountability for your own actions. Whatever historical data can benefit you as a company might also benefit the society we live in.
And if you truly want to be a source for good in the world, at least some of the history of your company and all the people who made it great should be kept for posterity.
How long should I retain the data?
Storage today is inexpensive, and keeps getting cheaper. Storing too much data is not where the expense is going to be greatest, unless you go for the “store everything”-alternative, in which case you´ll retain all useful data alongside the less useful. Which brings us to…
By deciphering all your core documentation in this way, you will have taken a great leap towards uncluttering your data and making good decisions on how to retain them. But this is still just half the job, the next questions should be: How do I organize them in the future? How do I make sure that all my core documentation both is captured, accessible and not degrading? That´s the how and will be the main theme for my next blog.